November 11, 2005

Seeking the Face of the Lord

God has given each of us a specific vocation in this world

At one time, I could count well over 100 first cousins. Of course, as the years go by our number is beginning to dwindle. Both sides of our family have strong German-Catholic roots. Like many families, we continue to celebrate family reunions on a regular basis. Last August, it was the reunion for the Blessinger cousins—my mom’s side of the family. Despite the large numbers, we all know each other still, even as age is taking its toll. We enjoy the visit and trade stories of our childhood and youth.

We have managed to keep in touch over the years, mostly by Christmas cards and letters. There has been one exception. After I became a bishop, one of my cousins, whom I didn’t know so well because she was older than me, began to write to me at frequent intervals to assure me of her prayers. Like her, her letters were very simple accounts of what was going on in her family.

She would also keep me informed of what was happening in the families of her sisters and brothers. And she wanted to know if I was doing OK. More recently, her letters had stopped coming, and I wondered why. I saw her at our reunion and saw that because of health issues she is no longer able to write.

Recently, while confirming young people in one of our southern Indiana parishes, I was happy to greet her son and his family. I was reminded to send my faithful writing cousin a note to let her know that I continue to think of her and pray for her. She had been so faithful in keeping in contact with me; now it is my turn to assure her of my prayers.

As my November thoughts turn to saints I’ve known in my lifetime, I could mention a number of cousins who have been and are a simple inspiration for me and many others. My letter-writing cousin stands out as an example of a faithful wife and mother who lives faith in a truly simple way. I am not naming her because, in her shyness and humility, she would be mortified.

But as I think of the different lay vocations in the world, I think of this cousin. She is an example of countless unsung people who live their Catholic faith in a straightforward yet humble manner in the home, in the family, in the neighborhood. She is a loving wife and mother, and worked hard all her life to help make a home for her husband and son.

She has been a presence in her parish community—mostly present and working in the shadows because she is shy and unassuming. At parish picnics, she would be one of those parishioners washing dishes in the kitchen; she would prefer to be one of the “anonymous” people who help clean the parish church. She would be at parish gatherings even though, because of her shy nature, she was inclined to stay at home.

When we think of the vocation of the laity, we tend to overlook the fundamental essence of vocation. We tend to think of the more visible roles that serve the liturgical celebrations or parish committees or other forms of public service in the parish.

The fact is each one of us has been called from all eternity to fulfill a divine vocation. By God’s Providence, we have been brought into life. I agree with the comment that no one has been born by accident. God created the soul of each and every one of us. Through the sacrament of baptism, we have been initiated into intimate life with God. He has “commissioned us; He has put his seal upon us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Cor 1:21-22).

However humble it may be, every one of us has a specific work to accomplish in this life and God has prepared a place for us in heaven. Within the universal call to holiness, God has given each of us a specific vocation by which we can make a difference in the world right where we live.

For some of us, the specific vocation is public and visible. For others, in fact I would say for most, like for my cousin, the specific vocation is largely unseen and unsung. Sometimes I think that more often than not the unseen among us may well live a more saintly life. But the real point is that the Christian vocation is not just filled by the more visible ecclesial roles, important as these are.

God points out a personal path to his love—it is our unique way to journey to the house of the Father. †


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